Citroen’s nine-time world champion has outpaced Ford driver Latvala for much of day two and starts Sunday’s six closing stages of the FIA World Rally Championship season finale with an advantage of 27.0s.
“I can’t catch him,” said Latvala. “I’m not disappointed, that’s the way it is. He’s fantastic on Tarmac. I need to work more and learn.”
Loeb, who is contesting his last event as a full-time WRC driver, said: “It’s been a good day for me, quite tricky condition in the first loop with wet roads and slippery in some places. There was a lot of gravel on the road and a risk of puncture but, okay, no problem. At the moment I am feeling well in the car. Jari-Matti was pushing very hard at the start of the day but for me the feeling was really good so I continued to push.”
Mads Ostberg began Saturday’s first test leading by 27.2s following a hugely impressive showing on Friday’s rain-hit mainly gravel stages. But his challenge would soon unravel when he opted to use a combination of hard and soft compound tyres in a diagonal formation for the first run through the damp El Priorat on Saturday morning where he suffered a time-consuming off.
And there was more frustration in the afternoon due to set-up issues, which caused the Norwegian to struggle for performance in his privateer Fiesta. He is now 1m31.4s of top spot in fifth overall, which could have a huge bearing on his efforts to beat Latvala to third place in the final championship standings.
Ott Tanak completed a strong afternoon by winning stage 12, a result that puts him 14.7s behind Mikko Hirvonen, who holds third overnight in the second factory Citroen. Behind Ostberg, Hans Weijs remains on course to score WRC points in sixth place on his first run in a World Rally Car.
Super 2000 World Rally Championship leader Craig Breen is seventh with Evgeny Novikov eighth and Jarkko Nikara ninth after a handful of moments in his Prodrive MINI in the afternoon, which included a spin on stage 11 and contact with a barrier on stage 12. P-G Andersson completes the top 10 for PROTON, one place ahead of WRC Team MINI Portugal’s Chris Atkinson.
Following a frustrating morning when his MINI’s engine dropped onto three cylinders, Dani Sordo fought back in the afternoon with two fastest stage times after his Prodrive team restored the car to full working order at midday service by replacing a faulty injector.